Making the call on Usability fixes

Getting input from a wonderfully engaged audience!

A great question from the back!

We got in to one of my favourite discussions at one of my DIY User Research workshop at FFWD London.  I demonstrated how to run a number of different types of research and had the group practice for themselves.  One great question was around how diligent to be on fixing user experience glitches.

Years of research with the youth market has shown that they do not necessarily like to use products that are too “scripted” – at the extreme, experiences that have in-built tutorials. They tell me that half the fun of starting to use a new app or product is to work out how to use it. That is part of the “game” (their language). They enjoy learning how to use a product and are happy to find their own way around. So fixing every single little glitch might not be a good thing to do – crazy though it may sound.

Now having said all of that, I need to temper it

1) “Hygiene” processes need to be as simple and pain-free as possible. Examples of “hygiene” being registration, sign in, and most importantly, payment! Serious impact for your business if there are any issues here.

2) It does somewhat depend on the product and the segment. If you are a mobile banking app, people are using you for efficiency and convenience – and a glitchy experience is going to put people off and reduce their confidence – the last thing a bank needs. This is also a good example of where you need to think about the segment. My first point above is a younger user, but it would seem that older users, experiencing a banking app would not really find working it out “fun”. Annoying, more like.

3) The product could be SO worth it! My example here is Pinterest. I love Pinterest. It is really useful for me to discover and organise home decor images for my pending house move (fingers crossed!) and I love the convenience of being able to share my boards. There are lots of incidents where I feel that the product is not intuitive and where I am forced through tutorials for new features. But I love it – so useful – and honestly, my love is not diminished by these usability downers.

I love running these workshops – the conversations that flow, the light bulbs that go off and the questions that make me think. Please comment away on this post.

Product Doctor Diagnoses – OTA 2012

Alex Craxton visits the Product Doctor Surgery

Here’s the report from this year’s Product Doctor Drop in Surgery at OTA 2012.

Another interesting range of products; from making a good old phone call, through to tracking housekeeping budget, m-health to enhanced status posting and finishing with around the world travel.

From what I saw in the surgeries, a few trends were certainly coming through:

  • incorporation of scanning technology
  • the continued growth of products to support social networking status posting
  • m-health becoming a reality
  • increased adoption of value added mobile services by the corporate market
  • revenue models from businesses rather than individual spend

Diagnosis hinged around some familiar threads –

Tom Hume drops in to talk shop

1). End User Validation– making sure that user insights are gathered at concept phase and continued user testing continues. The point, as always, is that this is not just usability testing, but testing that the overall concept you have.  Identifying user need and desire, supporting revenue models and product feature set all need to be validated before you go and build your product.

2). Ensure it is a Genuine End User – friends, family, established business contacts and friendly existing customers do not count – they don’t want to upset you.  Remember also, that you are not representative of an entire segment – building something on your own needs is not validation.

Please see “DIY User Engagement” for more guidance.

Paul Moutray gets medical

3). Revenue Modelling – Really think hard about where the pots of money are; this year there was more talk about collecting and providing customer information to brands and generating sales leads for brands.  In this climate and market, a product really has to be amazing for an end user to want to pay for it.

4). Know your competition – make sure you understand who is vying for your customer money or attention.  Think hard about what you think you are selling and question whether it is already being provided today.

5). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technology brings many new opportunities and there are some very clever developers out there, but please check out the commercial bases before you give up your job and start building a new product.

There are a couple of other points that struck me this year. I thought about how useful it could be for my patients to hear each others session. Some have experience in areas that others have not and that “share” could have been helpful.  Tying this together with some feedback last year that this felt more like “product therapy”, I am wondering about running group surgeries next year…

Nail your Launch Strategy at an early stage!

Last week I mentored 13 start ups in 2 days at Start Up Weekend Education London (#swel) and at Ignite100, where Katrina and I ran a Product Doctor Drop In Surgery for the teams in Newcastle.  One of the consistent themes was that teams were not thinking about their Launch Strategy early enough. If you read the below, you will see how important it is to do so and how it needs to be considered during the Product Development phase rather than aftewards.

Diagnosis: Your product feels like all things to all people
This can be a dangerous position as it is difficult to focus in a way that enables you to understand who your end users are. This distance between the product and its end users is likely to result in feature overload, lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan which will ultimately limit your success.

Feature overload increases your time to market. The more features, the longer the product development time, the longer the testing time is and the longer the fix period. It also adds time to future development time as regression testing takes longer.

Lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan may not “speak” to end users in their language as you don’t know what language they speak. If they don’t feel targeted it will be more difficult to get them interested in your product.

Then the million dollar question: “How are you going to drive traffic to your site?” If you don’t know who you are targeting, how can you possibly work out how to drive traffic?  Of course everyone talks about the industry press and blogs – but will this reach your target group?

Treatment:
Be really good in one area first. Consider organising your product roadmap around product launches to different sectors / areas, each backed up with a tailored feature set.

Work closely with your end user target segment to not only establish the feature set but also develop ideas for product positioning and launch tactics.

For your initial launch, select an industry sector / area that you have some connection to already. Either you have worked within it, or you already have contacts who you can get close to, giving you access to end users to engage in the ways described above throughout the development process.

You can show your product feature list to users (worded in user-friendly language of course) and have them put the features in order of desirability. Ask them not to rate any features that they are not interested in.  You should see some consensus forming quickly as long as you have defined your target segment well. You can also get them to indicate where the features are a hygiene factor (they just must be there) vs something that feels it is different to the competition. Note that it is not who you think your competition is, but who your users think your competition is.

Cross tab this feature list against a scale of how easy / difficult the product is to deliver (Scrum processes involving points to show this is advised). Cross tab this further with some benchmarking and make sure that the sector / area you choose does not already have a popular solution. Ensure that you work with end users to establish where any competitors are strong and weak. Establish your product feature set and positioning around these insights.

For more tips on “DIY User Engagement”, see my previous blogpost.

DIY User Engagement

Me, Katrina Damianou and one of our patients: Ketan Majmudar at the Product Doctor Surgery, OTA 2011. Photo courtesy of the fabulous Paul Clarke - paulclarke.com

This year at Over the Air in Bletchley Park, Katrina and I set up a Product Doctor Drop in Surgery offering 25 minute complimentary sessions. On a scorching couple of days, we set up outside and were happy to have a continual stream of patients, including the wonderful @Documentally and @Bookmeister.

Listening carefully, as we always preach, we are considering next year calling it “Product Therapy” as the sessions seemed to have a cathartic effect!

Rather than blogging a long post, here are the contents and the full paper is available for download below.

  1. It is never too early (or too late) to engage end users
  2. What do you show users?
  3. How to find your end users
  4. Can you have the conversation with end users?
  5. How to begin the conversation
  6. Write a test script
  7. “I can’t explain what my product does”
  8. Showing a prototype
  9. Testing for usability
  10. Keep checking back with users as you develop and improve each new feature
  11. Build and test your product before developing your brand
  12. Be honest with yourself as to why you are developing the App
I hope you find this useful and as always, please do get in touch or leave comments below.

Creating learning opportunities for young people through user centred design

I was invited to speak about Designing Products & Propositions for the Youth Market by Luke Mitchell of Reach Students at “Youth Marketing Stategy 2011”.

There was an interesting mix of speakers covering the youth market from a number of different perspectives; ranging from insights, marketing and creative agencies, community management and viral marketing to universities and graduate recruiters. This was a great place to share my insights about the youth market and to encourage all these players in the youth space to create learning opportunities for young people through their projects.

Here is the presentation that I gave. It gives many examples of how I have engaged young people in the design of youth products and the value that created for the producers.

Here are some further highlights from the day:

Understanding Youth Tribes – a new way to look at youth segmentation
This visual was created by a teenage boy who was asked to describe his local neighbourhood.  This was shown by Neil Taylor & Joe Beck from Channel 4.  This insight inspired their UK Tribes research on youth segmentation, insights and motivations and is definitely worth a read.
Here are the main tribes that they went on to identify through further interviews with young people.

Educational Institutions

Brunel University showed how social media can be used in educational institutions.  They had run focus groups to get some initial insights.  Great opportunity here for one of my pleas… run co-design sessions with students and the project team.  Start by sharing the intended business objectives and benefits. Move on to exploring and identifying the user benefits with the students and then to brainstorming user stories (Scrum reference) as you go.  “As a user I would like to ….. so that …”  Then co-design the user experience of products, systems and processes together.

For me, traditional “focus groups” are often not focussed enough.

  • The participants feel like the fish being watched in the bowl so are often not natural in their behaviour.  Smash down those viewing gallery windows and get the client in the room!
  • Participants feel that the researcher is wanting a particular answer and the session will often become a “guess the right answer” game.
  • Before going to research, the researcher / client will usually have done quite a lot of work designing the proposition based on assumed user needs – so save time and get in with the user early on to test any assumptions from the start.
  • Often clients will take the output of a focus group and months later, they may return and test out their solutions.  No! Keep going back – preferably every 2 weeks, within a scrum structure, and get users to sign off what has been developed as you go. Again, this will save time, money and effort.

Helen Pennack, Head of Marketing & Communications,  University of Leicester is an award-winning marketer who has been developing a portal and integrated social media marketing plan to both attract potential students and provide support to existing students at Leicester University.  She heavily engaged end users in the design and the community management of the portal. Another one that is worth a look and another way to help young people develop their real life skills and CV build as they go.

Not going to Uni!

Spencer Mehlman of notgoingtouni.co.uk provided a particularly refreshing and pragmatic alternative view to graduating and not finding a job.  Here is the leading paragraph from their website which says it all: “…So you’re thinking about not going to uni. Congratulations! You’ve just proved that you’re not afraid to think differently. Contrary to what the masses may say, university isn’t the only path to success. From apprenticeships to debt-free learning, there are literally thousands of other opportunities out there…”

Do Students Matter in Youth Marketing?

Ben Marks and Melanie Cohen of Opinion Panel gave some good reasons to engage students:

1. It is a population that’s large enough to matter

2. They are enthusiastic early adopters who take products viral

3. Student trends have always lead the way

4. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wealthy citizens and opinion leaders

Opinion Panel run online real-time moderated focus groups. The benefits of this method are that groups can be run with users from different locations and that many insights come from the conversation between users rather than those between moderator and respondent.  Trick here is to make sure that this is an appropriate method for the key questions that you have.  A good researcher will gain a huge amount of insight by looking in to the respondents’ eyes – some questions will always need to be face to face.

James Eder from Studentbeans.com gave a very engaging talk on how they have the largest student subscriber base in the UK for research through their special discounts and offers incentives. They work with many brands to solicit student opinion.  Again, this is online.

And for a great finish…

Get Tom Scott to speak at your event – I cannot think of anyone that could help your event finish on such a big high. Google him for examples of his viral successes. Importantly, he encourages us to try lots of different approaches, not to settle on one. This way we have more chance of succeeding.

All in all this was a good conference and I hope that Luke does another one!  As with all conferences, not all the sessions were useful for everyone as it was quite diverse around the sector, but there certainly are possibilities for them all to create real life learning experiences for young people and I hope that they do.


Please start with the User Need!

Last week I went to App Circus in London, sponsored by Nuance (@AlexCraxton was there) and BlueVia (@jamesparton and @bookmeister), to hear developers pitch their Apps for the chance to win a slot to be nominated for the 2012 Mobile Premier Awards at Mobile World Congress 2012.

I have seen many Apps pitched and it always bemuses me quite how many do not start with or even include proof of the user need; be that the pain point that they are addressing and / or a way to significantly improve the user experience of something that they already do.

The winner of this round was Masabi – “The ticket machine in your pocket” where “…UK rail travellers can now check train times and book tickets from almost any mobile phone – no complex sign-up required…”  I have seen the effervescent Ben Whitaker (@Benmasabi – Founder), present this product before and he is enjoying some well deserved success as the product is now live with many rail operators in a number of different countries.  Masabi addresses a real user need, vastly improving the user experience of buying train tickets, who no longer need to stand in line, and in turn providing brownie points to the rail operators that have signed up.  Listen to Ben and how he starts with the user need, and how lively this crowd was (after a few beers as the marvellous @Jorabin pointed out to me!)

Conclusion is to make sure that you are addressing a real user need as you develop your clever Apps.  If you are going to pitch your App, start with your user insights. If you don’t have user insights, go get them!  You can read more in an earlier post on this blog: Advice for Developers from my Product Doctor Drop In Surgery, OTA 2010.

Product Doctor has a number of innovative formats to help bring user insights to your business, product, conference or event.  Please feel free to contact me for more information. 

Social Innovation insights at Central St Martins

I was invited by Dr Jamie Brassett, Innovation Management MA Course Director at Central St Martins to join a panel all about Social Innovation.  I was joined on the panel by Professor Lorraine Gamman and Kate Oakley PhD.  At this point, I also want to add my LLB letters to my name!  It was the inaugural “Insights Exchange” on issues of Social Innovation/Enterprise & Public sector and the new concept was to mix up the academic with the non academic practitioners.  It was attended by 1st and 2nd year Innovation Management MA students and some other interesting and interested people!

The insights I talked about and suggestions I made are based on my experience directing the Space Makers Brixton Market project Nov ’09 – Nov ’10.

1. Stakeholders – When working on a community project, like Brixton Village, the stakeholder has a broader definition that just those you would expect. They also become apparent as you progress through the project.  I was pleased when I opened this question out to the Innovation Management students that they included shoppers, present and future, to be stakeholders too.  Many of us have a public place we feel to be “our” place – it may for example be somewhere that has family meaning for us.  So true of Brixton Market. You will also find local self-organised groups that are also working on community-focussed projects that become apparent as time progresses.  Realise also that your continual communication with your (loosely termed) stakeholders actually needs to work for those that are digital and those that are not.

Physical paper Poster

2. Identify the Benefits and Beneficiaries – Again, this will evolve as you go through the project.  List out all the benefits that different groups could get from the project.  This is important in helping to communicate to people why they might want to be involved; to turn around those that may be resisting change and will set a clear vision for all those that get involved with the overall project.

3. Open Source – Embrace the diversity that throwing the gates open can bring.  I do not remember turning away any pop up activities other than for health and safety reasons or those that were in direct competition with projects in units, such as food stalls. Another example is the open meetings that we held every Tuesday night in the local pub (Dougald’s brain-child response to the sheer amount of people that were contacting us to be involved), so that anyone who wanted to get involved with activities in the market could come along. There were many collaborations formed and events curated through this.  It also brings in additional resource; people were happy to dip and out and the overall project benefited hugely from extra pairs of hands to make the space really unusual and inclusive.

4. Basic Structures – Hand in hand with the open source idea are basic structures that allow for creativity and innovation to flourish.  Yes, you need some basic rules but we were careful to keep these minimal – give people enough so that they are comfortable to experiment in the space. No idea is a bad idea and we do not know failure!  This way, the project could again, evolve, learn what worked and what could be improved upon.  An example of a basic structure was this Performance Zone that was put in place on the forecourt to encourage passing performers.

Basic Structures - Encouraging open and safe participation

5. Documentation – All community projects have loads they can teach to help other projects.  I encourage people to be open about what works, what doesn’t work and to make that publicly available throughout the live project, rather than waiting to the end. With a constant and fast moving project, you probably will already be working on improvements when you receive the feedback and it is good to show your awareness.  Take lots of photographs – great for photography student projects, and we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Andy Broomfield helping us out.  Document your processes, again, so they can be re-used by others.

6. Develop a thick skin! There will always be people that do not like change.  Some of those will work with you once you have understood their angle and they understand how in fact the project can also work to help their cause. Others never will.

For those that know the Digital Youth Project mission, you will know my view that that these projects create fantastic learning experiences for young people and I always encourage getting young people involved – the benefits they bring to a project can be huge.  You can read more about youth involvement in the Brixton Market project here.

The discussion that followed was most interesting – I picked up all sorts of new terminology and there were some heated discussions. Here was the buzz that I got; understanding the different types of social innovation; wicked social problems; how social innovation is now a label that many existing institutions are adoptin; the impact of political context on social innovation projects; how to ensure ongoing sustainability; how to measure success; accountability; how social values are exchanged, fraternalism and SO MUCH MORE!  I want to do that course!

Here is sound-bite from Jamie and one of the students:

Credits:

Katrina Damianou – who was instrumental in the Brixton project as part of her work placement from Central last year.

Andy Broomfield for fabulous photos

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like some Product Doctor advice for social innovation, community building and youth real life learning experience projects.